Festive season’s silent heroes keep Cape Town safe

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

While most locals will be enjoying the end-of-year holiday, some will be still be working to ensure safety at congested malls, beaches and highways.

These dedicated individuals are the city’s uniformed police officers, traffic officers, paramedics and lifeguards at various beaches and public swimming pools.

Festive season merrymaking can go wrong and the “uniform family” – as they call themselves – is ready to save lives.

City officials indicated in mid-December already that unlawful and reckless behaviour has begun.

Law enforcers halfway through this month had already confiscated nearly 2,000 litres of beach booze. Officials said this confiscation was “nearly three times as much as the corresponding period last year”.

It is illegal to consume alcohol on public beaches.

“The introduction, possession and consumption of liquor on beach areas is prohibited and offenders will have their liquor confiscated and receive a written notice to appear in court, with a fine of R500,” warned officials.

Officials said “alcohol also featured prominently” on city roads – another prohibition. Traffic officers had this month been arresting motorists driving under the influence of alcohol.

Other arrests this month alone have included catching criminals for illegal firearm and drug possession.

Against this backdrop, the “uniform family” takes to the streets and gets on with their jobs. They shared with us their stories of sacrificing time with their families and loved ones, while feeling a sense of reward each time a life is saved in the city.

Inspector Maxine Jordaan: head of the Highway Ghost Team

I’ll be working on Christmas and New Year’s Eve. It’s normal to work over festive season. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m on standby.

Everybody’s on holiday and the roads get very congested, especially in the city centre, near malls and beaches.

Our mandate is road safety. The Highway Ghost Team monitors serious violations on the city’s highways.

Inspector Maxine Jordaan. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Inspector Maxine Jordaan. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

We monitor drunken and negligent driving. There’s an increase in drunken driving over the festive season. People think they’ve worked hard all year and take a break but get drunk on beaches and roads.

Drunken driving is a blatant disrespect for other road users and law enforcement. People who drink and drive are being irresponsible towards other families.

Our festive season started on October 1. Since then we’ve had roadblocks every weekend across the city. It’s to show people that they shouldn’t take a chance with driving drunk.

A good day for my team would be taking a reckless or drunken driver off the road and when no one’s lost a life. And also that people on my team are home with their families.

We save people’s lives. We stop and assist people on highways. It’s what we do every festive season.

I enjoy what I do, even though there are challenges. This isn’t just a job. It’s a calling. You have to have a passion and love for this job.

We call ourselves the ‘uniform family’. We all get to know each other: the police, paramedics, traffic officers. And when we all get to a scene it’s really dynamic.

Tarryn Steenveld: intern paramedic with Emergency Medical Services

I’ve been an intern paramedic for a year-and-a-half. I’ll be working on New Year’s Eve, on the road to respond to any emergencies and taking care of the public.

We respond to calls for help, assess someone when we arrive on the scene and transport them to hospital if it’s needed.

Tarryn Steenveld. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Tarryn Steenveld. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Our work can get stressful, but it’s very rewarding. Earlier this year I delivered a baby while we were driving in an ambulance. We are trained to do this.

People let their hair down a lot more during the festive season and that’s when things can go wrong. They risk more, without considering the next person.

People get silly and drunk. They assault, stab and shoot each other more.

We go into areas that are volatile and because of that you’ve got to love what you do. I’ve found my passion. I’m so proud to put on this uniform. We are there for the public.

The most rewarding feeling is dropping off a patient and they say thank you for the help. Or their families give you a hug.

It is also rewarding going into areas that are not so affluent and spending time with kids, inspiring them.

It’s also rewarding to build relationships with your crew. We spend 12 hours on a shift together. We become like family.

Angelo Pearce: lifeguard at the Eastridge public swimming pool in Mitchell’s Plain

There’s no such thing as a holiday for a lifeguard during the festive season. It’s crunch time. We only get a holiday on Christmas.

We work every weekend and get days off in the week when it’s quiet at the pool.

Angelo Pearce. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Angelo Pearce. Picture by Yazeed Kamaldien

Lifesaving is not only about watching people when they are in the pool. It’s about health and safety. We check the area around the pool. We remove any hazardous objects, like broken glass.

We then check the quality of the water. Our water has to be clear. We have to be able to see the bottom of the pool. If the water’s murky, we might not be able to see someone who has drowned.

On Boxing Day, there could be 1,000 people in the pool. We could lose sight of someone. A person could drown and we don’t see them. We need to prevent drowning.

Mitchell’s Plain is a coloured township and we have to deal with gangsterism as well. We have gang shootings right outside the pool facility, near our fence.

Then we evacuate everyone to make sure people are safe. We tell them to rather go home.

People who are drunk also come to the pool. They’re a hazard to themselves and we can’t allow them here.

Being a lifeguard is a lot of responsibility that we have to take on. We look at preventative lifesaving too. We want to prevent drowning.

We want to equip people with recovery skills, so we run them through swimming classes for free. When peak days come, we know all the kids can swim.

The joy of this job is to know a child can go to school the next day because they are safe at the pool. It’s also rewarding to see kids come here who are not rich and who learn to swim.

The culture at the pool has changed over the years because lifeguards became more assertive and interactive with people who come here. We show the kids that lifeguards are cool and they can be like us.

The pool is a safe haven for children. People who live here can’t really afford to get to other places. The kids go crazy at the pool; they swim and play games. People have birthday parties at the pool.

As lifeguards, we sacrifice a lot for this job. We sacrifice our time and train every day. We prepare ourselves for emergencies. We always have emergency drills.

When things go wrong, it can go horribly wrong. So we want to be efficient and need to know what to do to save lives.

I love working here mostly because help the kids in different ways. We teach them how to swim, life skills, have conversations with them and even give them food.

I made a conscious choice to work in the ghetto. I come from this area. This was an opportunity to look after people from my community, get to know them better and help them.

I feel like I’ve survived Mitchell’s Plain. And the kids who come here are still trying to survive it. They are stuck between, ‘Do I pursue drugs and gangs, or the right way?’ They are still finding out where they want to be, but by 16 they would make that decision.

As lifeguards, we have a lot of influence on kids. We teach them to be more disciplined. Hopefully they’ll take that with them when they leave the pool.

I worked for a year in another job in an affluent area. Most kids in affluent areas know how to swim. Many of them go to swimming classes.

I feel more needed in Mitchell’s Plain. Kids in the ghetto are hungry to learn. They want to know more. They want to learn skills. It’s rewarding to work with them.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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